A concept thrown to the wolves
Who knew when the efficient little suspense film “Open Water’’ came out in 2003 that its concept - two scuba divers swept out to sea, with sharks circling - would become a template for every young filmmaker with a dollar and a dream? Last year’s woebegone “The Canyon’’ stranded two idiot hikers in the Grand Canyon, with wolves circling, and now Adam Green’s “Frozen’’ sticks three unlucky winter sports enthusiasts on a shut-down chairlift somewhere in New England as night and a blizzard come roaring in. I’m waiting for “Restaurant!’’ about a couple marooned for weeks at a table by the bathrooms, the waitstaff nowhere in sight.
“Frozen’’ has its work cut out for it, since the main characters are so annoying you initially pray for an avalanche to just get it over with. Dan (Kevin Zegers) is a smarmy prep who pimps out his girlfriend to flirt with a ski-lift operator for free passes; said girlfriend, Parker (Emma Bell), is a whiner who has been falling down the bunny slope all day. Dan’s best friend, Lynch (Shawn Ashmore), is a slacker ski purist who sneers at the other two’s snowboards. Check, please?
Yet writer-director Green (a Holliston native now living in LA) generally plays fair by the premise, with one or two big, honking exceptions; see below. “Frozen’’ is an effective, no-frills gruel-a-thon if that’s your cup of Swiss Miss, and it explores such burning questions as: What happens if you’re dumb enough to leave your bare hand on a metal safety bar overnight? What does frostbite look like if you scratch it? Is it possible to shimmy along a lift cable without severing your fingers? And - a crucial one - when did wolves come back to New England?
“Frozen’’ was shot in Utah but it’s definitely set in our neck of the woods - Wachusett gets a call-out - and it shares with the much more inept “The Canyon’’ the ecological novelty of wolves where there ain’t none. I suppose if you can suspend your disbelief the way the heroes are suspended over the abyss, strands of cable ping-pinging apart one by one, you can accept the suspense of their possibly becoming doggie dinner. Harder to buy is the fact that none of the three are packing a cellphone. When screenplay necessity trumps logical realism, you have a problem.
So, yes, “Frozen’’ is silly stuff, but I admire Green for seeing the situation through and ultimately coming down to the nerve-racking spectacle of two stressed people going into their third day aloft in sub-zero temperatures. No green screen, no special effects; just a little fake blood and a few stunt wolves that look like their trainer tops them up once a day with New York strip. “Frozen’’ is a functional nightmare for ’boarders and those who love them - the “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide’’ of horror-suspense.